Zen and The Art of Drinking Tea
Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a nun who ran a tea shop. The nun was famous throughout China because of her deep understanding of zen. It was said that she was a true zen master, that she was fully enlightened, and students of zen travelled for thousands of miles to seek her knowledge.
The nun had a fearsome reputation because she would not tolerate foolishness. For every hundred who came in search of knowledge, she chased away ninety-nine of them, beating them mercilessly with a broom handle as they fled. But every now and again a seeker would emerge unscathed and leave the tea shop enlightened.
One day a novice monk from the village decide to go in search of illumination, but he’d seen the beatings that other monks had received and he was more than a little frightened. “What questions should I ask her? “if I ask the wrong question then she’ll think that I’m foolish and I’ll be chased and beaten?” I’ll seek guidance from Buddha consciousness,” he thought to himself, ” I’ll ask the knower within. But the monk sat in meditation for days and still nothing came, no matter how silent his mind, no questions came. After three days every bone in his body ached and he could sit for no longer and still no question came so the monk gave up in despair
The novice could not understand, normally great insights came to him in meditation, “why won’t just one simple question reveal itself to me.?” Determined not to be swayed from his path the monk resolved to visit the nun and trust that when the time arose the question would be there.
His heart was pounding by the time he reached the tea shop and his mouth was dry with nerves. He chose a table tucked away in the corner and struck dumb with fear all he could do was nod and smile when the nun came to him and poured his tea. The tea shone in the light as it poured forming golden swirls in the cup and the monk was suddenly lost in its aroma and for a moment he forgot why he was there. It was only when he saw another monk sitting in the corner could he pull himself away from the experience of the tea and remember his mission.
As the nun went over to the monk in the corner he listened intently hoping to overhear the gem of wisdom that would trigger his awakening. “Please wise sage” he heard him say “I have travelled all across China seeking your wisdom, may I most respectfully ask you a question?” The nun just looked at him and smiled. “What is the meaning of zen asked the monk”. The nun gave her full attention to the pouring of the tea, bowed and said “simply enjoy your tea”. Thinking that she had not heard his question the monk asked again “Please wise sage, I have travelled all across China seeking understanding., tell me, what is the meaning of zen”. The nun turned her back on him and walked off, returning moments later with a broom handle. She smacked the unsuspecting monk right across his back, whack, “feel that, that is the meaning of zen” and she whacked him again “drink your tea and feel your bruises, that is the meaning of zen” she shouted after him as he ran from the tea shop to escape more of a beating.
The novice from the village was terrified, he centred himself in the moment, but still, no question came, and when the nun returned to refill his cup he could feel fear rising. rising. “I know why you are here”, she said, ” you too are seeking to understand zen” . The novice nodded and bowed his head apologetically, “do you have a question for me?” she said, but still no question came he started to panic but pulled his attention back by focusing on the warm steam from tea. The monk looked up and sipped the tea, giving each sip his full attention. “I have no questions, I’m just drinking tea” and in that instant he became enlightened
In the Zen tradition, you’d be left with the riddle, but I’ll save you the mental energy. The novice became enlightened because he realised that the meaning of zen is that there is no meaning, zen is simply drinking tea. Equally zen is making the tea, and zen is waiting for the kettle to boil.